SCARBOROUGH – Members and supporters of West Hill United, a church in Scarborough, have taken exemplary action in support of Darlene Necan, an Ojibway woman and member of the Saugeen Nation 258 at Savant Lake in northern Ontario. Readers of Two Row Times know she faces Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources fines for building a cabin on “Crown Land” near the town. A letter addressed to Premier Kathleen Wynne and signed by 49 people at the church was delivered to the office of a local Member of Provincial Parliament. It urges the provincial premier to put her personal attention to the plight of Darlene Necan. Darlene visited West Hill on November 9, the day after speaking to 200 people at the Native Canadian Friendship Centre in Toronto.
“We did double-duty that day,” said Arlene Kelland, a church supporter. “We brought our own sandwiches from home and went downstairs after the regular service to hear Darlene tell her story.”
Recalling the impact Darlene’s story had, Ms. Kelland said, “what impressed us the most was how she built a home for Amelia, an elder in her community whom she found living in an abandoned chicken coop and suffering frost-bite so severe that the nurses at a local hospital couldn’t remove her socks without causing her excruciating pain. The socks had frozen into the skin of Amelia’s feet. Darlene’s first action wasn’t to build a home for herself, but to build one for this elder whose need she felt was great than hers. We asked her what we could do. Darlene didn’t ask for anything except that we pray for her. Well, our minister, Gretta Vosper, had just spoken that morning about prayer. She said the best form of prayer is thoughtful and deliberate action. As a group of members we followed this up with the premier since Kathleen Wynne has said many times she wants to turn a new leaf with indigenous peoples in Ontario. This would be as good a place to start as any.”
The West Hill letter, composed by some members of the First Nations Study Group, was featured in Reg Sherren’s story on Darlene which aired on CBC National, Dec. 1. Included there was a brief segment of an interview with Steve Watson about why he and others at West Hill were supporting Darlene. In an interview with CBC Radio in Thunder Bay, a call was issued to the premier to go to Savant Lake, talk to the people there, find out what needs to be done and follow up on it. A follow-up letter said there should be no fines issued against homeless indigenous persons while there’s a homeless crisis affecting of indigenous peoples in the province.
When the West Hill letter was distributed at the Ontario Federation of Labour Aboriginal Gathering which happened on the last weekend of November, support for Darlene went viral within the trade union movement. Michael Desautels, an aboriginal equity officer for Public Service Alliance of Canada, networked an action request on Darlene’s case within the PSAC. Unifor Human Rights Director Vinay Sharma did the same within Unifor.
Minister Gretta Vosper has posted Darlene’s story on her Facebook. The West Hill home page features the CBC National’s story on Darlene. Visitors to the site can find a message of support for Darlene and links to the premier they can use to send her a message at www.westhill.net.